By: Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes (story), Renato Guedes (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: This is just a day for awkward encounters with old enemies, huh?

The Review: A lot of people heaved a little groan when they heard that Constantine would be shifting completely from the Vertigo universe over to the DCU proper, and as we’ve been seeing, that groan was mostly justified (more on that in a bit).  I don’t understand why going mainstream means having to dumb down a character; it’s not as if the mainstream audience has an aversion to smart, well-crafted stories.

But that’s exactly what’s happened to Constantine in the last year or so.  While Lemire-Fawkes’ portrayal of the mage isn’t offensive, it reeks of oversimplification, taking away every subtlety and nuance of his character and reducing him to little more than a tagline: “Tricky chap.  Quite a bastard.  Works magic.”  In essence, they’ve emphasized only his superficial appeal, and gotten rid of everything that actually made him compelling and popular.

Getting into John’s head was their first mistake.  Practically the whole of his intrigue relies on not knowing what he’s thinking nor his exact motivations.  This keeps him wallowing in that moral gray area where he seems to prosper the most.  In contrast, this John is obviously well-intentioned, waging a war against greater evils and willing to take drastic measures in order to win.  In fact, Lemire-Fawkes make John a little bit too sympathetic a character, particularly with his light brooding on the costs of magic, which seems too heavy-handed for him.

If John’s not that interesting to follow in himself, then you only have the plot to invest in, and here we also get a disappointing lack of complexity.  This search for the three parts of the Compass has turned out kind of boring.  For such an important and powerful object, you’d think there’d be more to putting it together than simply showing up at various temples, smashing the altar, and picking up the waiting piece.  Whoever hid the Compass put less effort into protecting it than the Hogwarts professors did for the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Underwhelming, to say the least.

Any obstacles to the Compass come in the form of the various characters who waylay John during his quest, and they are about as interesting as he is.  Mister E’s missing eyes and Southern accent do little to impress you, even when he’s engaging in a bit of torture.*  The scene involves a different victim and different method, but it basically has the same shruggable quality as Sargon the Sorceress’ torture scene last issue.  It’s really an unsubtle sort of magic at work.

The Spectre is, if anything, even less impressive.  John tries very hard to convince us otherwise (“…it’s bloody terrifying.  I’m shivering in the steaming heat.  I’m fighting the urge to drop to my knees.”), but there’s no disguising the fact that all he does in this issue is show up, deliver a self-righteous speech, then kind of gets bored and leaves.  The spirit of God’s vengeance has always been a fickle character, someone writers like to use to convey a huge power at work but for little other reason, and this is taking it to a new level.

Guedes provides truly great-looking art (especially with Maiolo’s rich colors), but without much in the way of storytelling.  I can’t say this enough, but I’m no art critic, and even I noticed some strange artistic choices in the issue.  For example, why on earth would Mister E appear with his back turned to Constantine?  Obviously, so we can look at John’s reaction at the same time as we get our first glimpse of E.  I also question Guedes’ tendency to draw everything from the POV of the ground-up or from above-down.  It makes for a rather dull, unengaging issue.

Conclusion: Even taking the character and series as a whole new thing, separate from prior incarnations, it’s a mostly well-worn stream of generalities, with nothing to set it apart as fresh or novel.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * My question is why E bothered sending ordinary third-world country guerillas to kidnap John first.  And also why John couldn’t simply get himself out of it if he can apparently teleport himself right under the nose of the likes of E.